Does failure lead to success? Only if you know how...

By: Rha K. Cardinale


"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly" Robert Francis Kennedy.

Most businesses continue to struggle by approaching highly dynamic markets with risk aversion as their primary guide. Yet, in recent times, the organisations that have continually outperformed the pack are perennial risk takers. They are the innovators. When it comes to innovation, it becomes impossible to distinguish success from failure.

One prime example of this is computer guru Bill Gates. He dropped out of Harvard Law School to the dismay of his mother, Mary. She saw this move as a disastrous failure and for years he had nothing to show for it to prove anybody wrong. In the meantime he was working on a fledgling idea we now know as Microsoft.

All too often we are hasty to judge something to be a success or failure before the conclusion has even reached the bench. Failures in of themselves are often just the processes that lead us down the path to learning what does work and where our great ideas can finally emerge.

The indistinct line between success and failure is often not seen clearly. Perhaps it would be more helpful to view that line as an interchangeable relationship of two supporting halves.

Sometimes our western minds have a hard time grasping this concept. All too often western philosophy drives minds to see things as two distinct terms; such as black or white, big or small, tall or short, yes or no, and so on. Eastern philosophy sees things as a more relaxed partnership. They embrace the dance of the two opposites as a paradox of life, natural and inexistent without the other. This can be seen in such terms as sweet and sour, ying and yang, and other duel conceptions. Instead of a crisis, therefore, all things are simply an opportunity.

When Success is Really Failure Disguised: Success that is short term is really just making a huge failure. The quick fix is usually just a patch that backfires when reality resurfaces. This idea can be illustrated with a cyclist who gets a puncture on their tire. Most would approach it with an "Ah-Ha" moment and simply patch it up. Then simply get back on the same road and continue toward their goal. The road, however, is very bad and continues to puncture the tires more and more until the cyclist ends up with a very unusable tire. However, they are so far down the road that going back is now out of the question, and going forward is just as bad. The shortcut road is now an epic failure.

The Samurai approach to innovation is not that innovation is a helter-skelter affair that has no rhyme or reason to it. Innovation is a learnt skill. If you are looking for teachers of this art you can do no better than the Japanese Samurai.

It is well known that Samurais were amongst the most effective, fiercest and bravest warriors that ever lived. What is less known is central mindset that guided their actions. Samurais recognised that focusing on victory was an impediment to winning a fight, a battle or a war.

They simply recognized that focusing on victory would impede their abilities to win. They honed a rather invaluable skill of constantly being in the present. The will to win, then, was not the vision of winning; it was all the moments up to the point of victory. Their creed was that of achieving the goal by ignoring it.

We may have a vision or goal in mind. It can be a huge vision or goal, such as a position or ownership of a company or business, or it could be to design a product that will be innovative. However, the most we can see and reach will only ever be the next step. We must bring our attention to the present set of mini goals, one at a time. To simplify this concept one must always bring their mind right to the next best step, cross referencing it from the last step to improve it, and looking to the next step in the future and applying it to the present goal.

The enemy is looking into the future for what might go wrong or relying on the past for what will go right. The goal, therefore, is intended to be made and then filed away. Once you learn to let go of the goal you will learn to free up your mind to generate the steps to reach it. It may seem that some steps are irrational, but these must be taken. The greatest innovation were not based on what worked before, but were built on the known factors that needed to be taken as risks and that had to be acted on with a gut instinct.

Collaboration and Input: Any great goal requires a great team. This means that collaboration, speaking up, listening to new ideas and looking at it from another's prospective will achieve the greatest final performance. A prime example would be the philosophy found at IBM, "The greater the level of collaborative innovation, the greater the financial performance. This requires acquiring the skills needed to work together as one. Leave the leadership desires at the door, and collaborate to come out of top.

Sometimes massive innovation flops, such as New Coke, will bite hard for a time only to become the greatest of booms in the longer term. The good news is that if you constantly practice innovation you will learn how to turn your failures into successes and build upon that which is working.

To become a true master you need to know how to release the concept of fear and failure along with the burning desire to succeed. Trying to innovate the outcome is the number one killer of true success. Trying to control every step between now and the goal will only generate caution, fear, and paralysis which will then stop you and the team from true successful results.

To truly embrace success you need to consistently work on developing a culture that is founded on reinvention. Only in consistently evolving to the needs of the company and the changing economy can you succeed in reaching your goal.

Businesses need to take a lesson form our children; there are some great things they can teach us. The biggest is that of having an open mind and being able to receive and send a vision, constantly looking at the world with a fresh eyed wonder. They simply cast aside entrenched beliefs, taboos, habits, patterns, belief systems, and strongly rooted thought habits.

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Author: Rha K. Cardinale can show your organisation how to create a culture of innovation. Visit the "exciting Leadership" website for more exciting ideas on building innovative teams

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